Nonprofit hospitals ‘on an unsustainable path,’ Moody’s says

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/nonprofit-hospitals-on-an-unsustainable-path-moodys-says/531245/

Dive Brief:

  • Not-for-profit and public hospitals spent more than they gained in revenues for the second consecutive year in fiscal 2017, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
  • Moody’s said the widening gap leaves facilities “on an unsustainable path” and will remain the largest strain on nonprofits through next year.
  • Median annual expense growth decreased to 5.7% in 2017 from 7.1%. That’s compared to annual revenue growth, which declined to 4.6% from 6.1%, according to Moody’s analyst Rita Sverdlik.

Dive Insight:

Hospitals, especially nonprofit facilities, are facing difficult times. Morgan Stanley recently reported that about 18% of more than 6,000 hospitals studied were at a risk of closure or are performing weakly. About 8% of studied hospitals were at risk of closing and 10% were called “weak,” according to that report. 

For perspective, just 2.5% of hospitals closed over the past five years.

What’s in store for hospitals in the near term depends on the specific outlook. Moody’s this year revised its outlook for the sector from stable to negative. That move followed nonprofit hospitals seeing more credit downgrades in 2017.  

On the other hand, Fitch Ratings recently called off its “Rating Watch” for U.S. nonprofit hospitals and health systems after the organizations showed improved or stable results this year.

So, there are signs of improvement in the sector, but challenges with revenues, sagging reimbursements and lower admissions will continue to plague hospitals.

The reasons Moody’s gave for lower revenue growth came from lower reimbursements, the shift to outpatient care, increased M&A activity and additional ambulatory competition. It said the move away from inpatient to outpatient moved into its fifth year.

Reversing sluggish volume trends and growing profitable service lines will be critical to improving the sector’s financial trajectory over the near-term as most hospitals continue to operate in a fee-for-service environment,” Sverdlik said.

Moody’s added that more hospitals reported operating deficits in 2017. That coincided with lower absolute operating cash flow. It said 28.4% of nonprofit hospital experienced operating losses, an increase from 16.5% in 2016. Also, 59% of providers reported lower absolute operating cash flow, which was more than double the 24% noted in 2015. The 2017 figure was the highest percentage in five years.

Don’t expect times to get better any time soon. Moody’s said nonprofit hospital margins will continue to remain thin through this year. Margins have fallen to an all-time low of 1.6% operating and 8.1% of operating cash flow.

“Margin pressures led to softened debt coverage ratios, though the median growth rate of total debt has been negative over the last five years,” Sverdlik said. “Ongoing operating pressures will constrain the ability to reverse these trends, especially if providers turn to debt to fund capital needs.”

However, it’s not all bad news. Moody’s said the medians have shown positive signs. For instance, median unrestricted cash and investments growth rate improved to 8.9% thanks to strong market returns and steady capital spending. Also, absolute cash growth exceeded expenses growth, which caused improved median cash on hand. That trend isn’t expected to continue if hospitals spend more cash flow on capital or if equity markets fall.

 

 

Viewpoint: Small hospitals should be hopeful and wary of national health systems

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/viewpoint-small-hospitals-should-be-hopeful-and-wary-of-national-health-systems.html

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With Cleveland Clinic eyeing acquisitions at two locations on Florida’s Treasure Coast — Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach and Martin Health System in Stuart — residents and hospital workers should be wary but hopeful, according to the local TC Palm.

That a national power in the healthcare industry wants to snap up two independent nonprofit hospitals in Florida is no surprise. The area’s patient population has the trifecta of demographics: aging, wealthy and insured, TC Palm‘s Gil Smart wrote. In an era of increasing expenses, declining reimbursements and growing powers, finding a partner system can give small hospitals more weight in negotiations and help fund capital for investments in growth and change.

Yet as examples have shown, allowing bigger players to come into local markets means change, and not all of it is good, Mr. Smart noted. Unions will have it tougher at the negotiation table and control will change hands.

“Bottom line: There will be a loss of local control. There always is, where the bigger, faraway healthcare system gulps down the local guy,” Mr. Smart wrote. “Yet we shouldn’t let the drawbacks overshadow the potential benefits of having a globally renowned healthcare ‘brand’ set up shop in our backyards.”

The benefits, such as easier, better and more coordinated care, are a lot to be hopeful for. Read the full column here.

https://www.tcpalm.com/story/opinion/editorials/2018/06/04/cleveland-clinic-mean-better-health-care-here/668585002/

 

 

 

Moody’s: 3 ways the GOP tax bill will hurt nonprofit hospitals

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/moody-s-3-ways-the-gop-tax-bill-will-hurt-nonprofit-hospitals.html

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The Republicans’ tax overhaul plan, which is expected to become law soon, has negative credit implications for nonprofit hospitals and health systems, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

Here are three ways the tax bill will hurt nonprofit hospitals and health systems.

1. The tax bill will repeal the ACA’s individual insurance mandate. This will cause the uninsured population to rise and raise uncompensated care costs, which will negatively affect healthcare organizations’ operating margins and cash flow, according to Moody’s.

2. The tax plan’s limits on tax-exempt refundings is negative for all issuers of tax-exempt debt, including nonprofit hospitals and health systems, as these financings have been used to reduce long-term borrowing costs and take advantage of lower interest rates, according to Moody’s.

3. The tax bill will slash the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. This change has negative implications for nonprofit hospitals and health systems, as it “makes tax-exempt bonds a less attractive investment for banks and other financial institutions, which will weaken demand, especially for direct bank loans and private placements,” according to Moody’s.

Hospital Distress to Grow If Congress Closes Door to Muni Market

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-08/hospital-distress-to-grow-if-congress-closes-door-to-muni-market

  • Small, lower-rated facilites could see costs rise 1-2 percent
  • At least 26 non-profit hospitals already in default, distress

As Congress moves to assemble the final version of its tax plan, projects like Spooner, Wisconsin’s 20-bed hospital hang in the balance.

The rural community, about 110 miles (177 kilometers) northeast of Minneapolis, sold tax-exempt bonds to build the $26 million facility it opened last May. The hospital’s chief executive officer said that if its access to such low cost financing had been cut off it would have paid over $6 million more in interest.

That may soon be an expense that other hospitals across the country will have to shoulder. The House’s tax legislation revokes non-profit hospitals’ ability to raise money in the municipal market, where investors are willing to accept lower interest rates because the income is exempt from federal taxes. That’s threatening to saddle health-care providers with higher borrowing costs at a time when their finances are already under pressure.

“Should tax-exempt financing not be available in the future, it may really harm our ability to build affordable senior housing and assisting living facilities,” said Michael Schafer, Spooner Health’s CEO.

For small, rural hospitals across the country, labor, drug, and technology costs are increasing faster than the revenue and patients’ unpaid debts are on the rise. Higher financing costs would be one more challenge.

David Hammer, head of municipal bond portfolio management for Pacific Investment Management Co., said the loss of the tax-exemption could raise borrowing costs by 1 to 2 percentage points at small facilities with a BBB rating or below. That “could have a meaningful impact on their balance sheets,” he said.

At least 26 non-profit hospitals are already either in default or distress, meaning they’ve notified bondholders of financial troubles that make bankruptcy more likely, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That includes falling short of financial terms set by their debt agreements and having too little cash on hand.

Many of them are based in rural communities where the populations tend to be “older, poorer and sicker,” according to Margaret Elehwany, the vice president of government affairs and policy at the National Rural Health Association. She estimates that about 44 percent of rural hospitals operate at a loss. There have been at least seven municipal bankruptcy filings by hospitals since last year, the most of any municipal sector excluding Puerto Rico.

The risk that Congress will prevent hospitals from accessing the municipal market worries Dennis Reilly, the executive director of the Wisconsin Health & Educational Facilities Authority, an agency that issues debt for non-profits such as Spooner Health.

“All of us in the industry were completely blindsided by the House proposal,” Reilly said in an interview from Washington, where he was meeting with members of Congress about the proposed bill.

“Without tax-exempt financing, not-for-profits across the country will have increased borrowing costs of 25 to 35 percent because they’ll have to access the taxable market,” he said. “For many of the rural providers like Spooner, much of their project they would not have been able to do with the higher cost of capital.”

A Rush to Beat the Clock

Hospitals are among those rushing to issue tax-exempt debt while they still can. Mercy Health, a Catholic health-care system that operates in Ohio and Kentucky, is scheduled to sell $585 million tax-exempt bonds next week. The deal, originally planned for early next year, was moved up after the release of the House proposal.

Spending more on debt would cut into the funds available for facilities, equipment and charitable outreach, like programs for opioid addiction, according to Jerome Judd, Mercy’s senior vice president and treasurer. “Things like that are impacted,” he said.

At least some members of Congress share the hospital executives’ concerns. Last month, some Republican lawmakers sent a letter to leadership pushing for the final plan to preserve the ability of hospitals and other entities, like affordable housing agencies and universities, to issue tax-exempt bonds.

“Private activity bonds finance exactly the sort of private public partnerships of which we need more of, not less,” they wrote. “These changes are incompatible with President Trump’s priority for infrastructure investment in the United States.”

It’s Tough to be Small

Some hospitals already opt to sell their bonds in the taxable municipal market to avoid disclosures and restrictions over how the proceeds are used, though they are typically larger entities that can secure advantageous rates because of the size of their deals. Patrick Luby, a municipal analyst at CreditSights, said smaller clinics with only a few million of bonds to sell would have a hard time accessing that market, which attracts corporate debt investors accustomed to big issues.

“Even what we would consider a large deal in the muni market is almost an odd lot in corporate bonds,” he said. “Very large hospital chains, large household name universities — global investors will buy those names, but they’re not going to buy a $15, $25, $50 million local hospital.”

If the House plan is enacted, hospitals “will have a really difficult time accessing the market,” he said.

 

Fitch issues negative outlook for nonprofit hospitals: 4 things to know

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/fitch-issues-negative-outlook-for-nonprofit-hospitals-4-things-to-know.html

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Fitch Ratings’ outlook on the nonprofit healthcare sector is negative for 2018, as the sector faces regulatory, political and competitive challenges.

Here are four things to know about Fitch’s outlook on the sector.

1. Fitch expects nonprofit hospitals and health systems’ profitability to continue to weaken over the next year. “Growth in Medicare and Medicaid volumes are weakening provider payer mixes at a time when providers are moving from volume-based reimbursement in greater numbers,” said Fitch Senior Director Kevin Holloran.

2. Fitch said several factors could adversely affect lower-rated hospitals’ operating performance in 2018, including growing pressure on salaries and continued erosion in payer mix.

3. The proposed tax overhaul bill, which would hamper nonprofit hospitals’ ability to issue tax-exempt revenue, could further pressure the industry, according to Fitch.

4. Although the nonprofit healthcare sector outlook is negative, Fitch maintained its stable outlook for ratings of healthcare issuers. “Fitch anticipates our revised criteria for the acute care sector will be published early next year, which should lead to an above-average, but still balanced, degree of rating movement during the year,” the debt rating agency said.

House GOP tax plan eliminates tax-exempt bonds that finance hospitals

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/house-gop-tax-plan-eliminates-tax-exempt-bonds-that-finance-hospitals.html

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House Republicans recently unveiled a tax reform plan that calls for the elimination of private activity bond issuance, which is likely to significantly impact the entire nonprofit hospital sector.

Nonprofit hospitals issue tax-exempt bonds to finance capital projects. Under the tax plan, interest on newly issued private activity bonds would no longer be tax-exempt. This change would reduce financing options for lower-rated healthcare organizations by raising the cost of capital, according to S&P Global Ratings.

“From a credit perspective, higher borrowing rates can lead to budget imbalances, a challenge for all, and a hallmark of struggling credits,” said S&P. “We believe operating margin pressure is likely to be exacerbated by the House tax proposal, as it will pressure costs and hurt margins for a considerable portion of our rated healthcare providers.”

The American Hospital Association also noted how the tax plan could negatively impact healthcare providers. “For many communities, tax-exempt financing, such as private activity bonds, has been a key to maintaining vital hospital services,” said Tom Nickels, executive vice president of the AHA. “If hospital access to tax-exempt financing is limited or eliminated, hospitals’ ability to make investments in new technologies and renovations in the future will be challenged.”

Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, released a draft of Senate Republicans’ tax plan on Thursday. Unlike the House tax proposal, the Senate’s tax plan would not eliminate hospitals’ ability to access low-cost capital financing through tax-exempt bonds.

Organizational Independence: Mission Impossible?

http://www.healthleadersmedia.com/leadership/organizational-independence-mission-impossible?spMailingID=9084486&spUserID=MTMyMzQyMDQxMTkyS0&spJobID=941950601&spReportId=OTQxOTUwNjAxS0

independence-day-64dMission Impossible

Adherence to a strict interpretation of the goal of independence can be a critical barrier to positioning the organization for a value-based environment.